How does Flannery O'Connor describe the cultural and physical landscape of the South? How does this tie in with the theme she establishes throughout the story?
In "A Good Man is Hard to Find," by Flannery O'Connor, setting is a very important element of the story. As the family drives through the countryside, O'Connor at first describes the scenery of Stone Mountain and the “blue granite” and “red clay banks.” These physical details show a beautiful landscape that no one in the family except the grandmother appreciates. Later, just before they have a car accident, they find themselves on a dirt road that is hilly and has sharp curves. This is foreshadowing for the accident that is about to happen. When they are standing near the accident, just as the Misfit approaches in his “big black battered hearse-like automobile,” the landscape is ominous. They are surrounded by woods, which were “tall and dark and deep.” Here, O’Connor again matches the physical landscape to the action and tone of the story.
The cultural landscape includes the stop at Red Sammy’s, the children’s comment that Tennessee is ‘hillbilly’ country, and later the in discussion with the Misfit and his boys. The culture in which the grandmother finds herself is harsh and crude—nothing like the old days, which she reminisces of throughout the story. She longs for the more gentile past over the world she is now and this can be seen in her constant voicing of the importance of a ‘good man.’
Thus, O’Connor places emphasis on both the cultural and physical landscape of the south to directly reflect the theme of the story, which is a lack of goodness in the world, exhibited by the rudeness of Bailey toward his mother and the murder the Misfit commits in the story's final moments.
O'Connor's landscape combines vestiges of the old South with a depiction of 1950s all-American middle-class life. The 1950s elements include the nuclear family of mother, father, son, and daughter, along with an unwilling grandmother, packed together into the family car for the road trip vacation. It also includes Red Sammy's, a burger and soda joint on the road established to accommodate the post-war car culture.
The grandmother, with her emphasis on being a "lady," with her gloves and dress and the violets in her hat, could be said to be part of the landscape of the old South. The pickaninny they pass and whom the grandmother exclaims over is also part of the Old South, as is the mansion the grandmother manipulates the children into clamoring to see. It is the futile pursuit of the past that leads the family down the literal road to destruction in search of the mansion that never appears.
The old South that the grandmother remembers with nostalgia is part of a mythology that no longer can save her when she is confronted with the reality of evil. Her being a "lady" means nothing, and this ties in with the theme that says experiencing the love and grace of God, which the grandmother finally does when everything else is stripped away, is the only path to salvation, whether we live or die.